Because it has a lot of moving parts.
If I establish a link with NASA, I can talk to them by holding a page of text up to the Lander’s camera. But how would they talk to me? The only moving parts on the Lander are the high gain antenna (which would have to stay pointed at Earth) and the camera boom. We’d have to come up with a system where NASA could talk by rotating the camera head. It would be painfully slow.
But Sojourner has six independent wheels that rotate reasonably fast. It’ll be much easier to communicate with those. If nothing else, I could draw letters on the wheels, and hold a mirror up to its camera. NASA’d figure it out and start spelling things at me.
That all assumes I can get the Lander’s radio working at all.
Time to turn in. I’ve got a lot of backbreaking physical labor to do tomorrow. I’ll need my rest.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 83
Oh god I’m sore.
But it’s the only way I could think of to get the Lander safely on to the roof.
I built a ramp out of rocks and sand. Just like the ancient Egyptians did.
And if there’s one thing Ares Vallis has, it’s rocks!
First, I experimented to find out how steep the grade could be. Piling up some rocks near the Lander, I dragged it up the pile, then down again. Then I made it steeper, etc. I figured out I could pull it up a 30 degree grade. Anything more was too risky. I might lose my grip and send the Lander tumbling down the ramp.
The roof of the rover is over 2 meters from the ground. So I’d need a ramp almost 4 meters long. I got to work.
The first few rocks were easy. Then they started feeling heavier and heavier. Hard physical labor in a spacesuit is murder. Everything’s more effort because you’re lugging 20kg of suit around with you, and your movement is limited. I was panting within 20 minutes.
So I cheated. I upped my O2 mixture. It really helped a lot. Probably shouldn’t make that a habit. Also, I didn’t get hot. The suit leaks heat faster than my body could ever generate it. The heating system is what keeps the temperature bearable. My physical labor just meant the suit didn’t have to heat itself as much.
After hours of grueling labor, I finally got the ramp made. Nothing more than a pile of rocks against the rover, but it reached the roof.
I stomped up and down the ramp first, to make sure it was stable, then I dragged the Lander up. It worked like a charm!
I was all smiles as I lashed the Lander in place. I made sure it was firmly secured, and even stacked the solar cells in a big single stack (why waste the ramp?).
But then it hit me. The ramp would collapse as I drove away, and the rocks might damage the wheels or undercarriage. I’d have to take the ramp apart to keep that from happening.
Tearing the ramp down was easier than putting it up. I didn’t need to carefully put each rock in a stable place. I just dropped them wherever. It only took me an hour.
And now I’m done!
I’ll start heading home tomorrow, with my new 100kg broken radio.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 90
Seven days since Pathfinder, and seven days closer to home.
As I’d hoped, my inbound tracks gave me a path back to Lewis Valley. Then it was four sols of easy driving. The hills to my left made it impossible to get lost, and the terrain was smooth.
But all good things come to an end. I’m back in Acidalia Planitia now. My outgoing tracks are long gone. It’s been 16 days since I was last here. Even timid weather would clear them out in that time.
On my way out, I should have made a pile of rocks every time I camped. The land is so flat they’d be visible for kilometers.
On second thought, thinking back to making that damn ramp… ugh.
So once again I am the desert wanderer, using Phobos to navigate, and hoping I don’t stray too far. All I need to do is get within 40km of the Hab and I’ll pick up the beacon.
I’m feeling optimistic. For the first time, I think I might get off this planet alive. With that in mind, I’m taking soil and rock samples every time I do an EVA.
At first, I figured it was my duty. If I survive, geologists will love me for it. But then it started to get fun. Now, as I drive, I look forward to that simple act of bagging rocks.
It just feels nice to be an astronaut again. That’s all it is. Not a reluctant farmer, not an electrical engineer, not a long haul trucker. An astronaut. I’m doing what astronauts do. I missed it.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 92
I got 2 seconds of signal from the Hab beacon today, then lost it. But it’s a good sign. I’ve been traveling vaguely north-northwest for two days. I must be a good 100km from the Hab; it’s a miracle I got any signal at all. Must have been a moment of perfect weather conditions.
During the boring-ass days, I’m working my way through “The Six Million Dollar Man” from Commander Lewis’s inexhaustible collection of ‘70s tripe.
I just watched an episode where Steve Austin fights a Russian Venus probe that landed on Earth by mistake. As an expert in interplanetary travel, I can tell you there are no scientific inaccuracies in the story. It’s quite common for probes to land on the wrong planet. Also, the probe’s large, flat-panel hull is ideal for the high-pressure Venusian atmosphere. And, as we all know, probes often refuse to obey directives, choosing instead to attack humans on sight.
So far, Pathfinder hasn’t tried kill me. But I’m keeping an eye on it.
LOG ENTRY: SOL 93
I found the Hab signal today. I have a solid bearing and direction to go. No more chance to get lost. According to the computer, I’m 24718 meters away.
I’ll be home tomorrow. Even if the rover has a catastrophic failure, I’ll be fine. I can walk to the Hab from here.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I am really fucking sick of being in this rover. I’ve spent so much time seated or laying down, my back is all screwed up. Of all my crewmates, the one I miss most right now is Beck. He’d fix my aching back.
Though he’d probably give me a bunch of shit about it. “Why didn’t you do stretching exercises? Your body is important! Eat more fiber,” or whatever.
At this point I’d welcome a health lecture.
During training, we had to practice the dreaded “Missed Orbit” scenario. In the event of a second-stage failure during MAV ascent, we’d be in orbit, but too low to reach Hermes. We’d be skimming the upper atmosphere, so our orbit would rapidly decay. NASA would remotely operate Hermes and bring it in for rendezvous. Then we’d get the hell out of there before Hermes caught too much drag.